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Boise State and Big Sky coaching legend Tony Knap dies at 96
One of the architects of the Boise State football program’s success died Saturday night.
Tony Knap led the Broncos through the transition from junior college to four-year school. He posted a 71-19-1 record from 1968 to 1975, the Broncos’ first eight seasons of four-year football.
The Broncos won the Big Sky Conference title in each of his last three seasons, and Knap’s winning percentage (78.6) ranks third in school history. The Broncos reached the Division II semifinals in 1973.
Knap was inducted into the Boise State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982.
Current coach Chris Petersen has met every former Broncos coach, dating to junior college legend Lyle Smith, except Knap, who had Alzheimer’s and lived in a retirement home in Pullman, Wash. He was 96.
“It seems like the guys that, at functions, I run into are the guys that played for Lyle and Tony Knap,” Petersen said. “… I know that they all loved that guy and thought that he was an awesome, awesome coach and person.”
Smith, who was 156-26-6 at Boise Junior College, stepped down as football coach and stayed on as athletic director when the Broncos began four-year play. He hired Knap, a former teammate on the Idaho football team.
Knap had gone 25-14-1 as the head coach at Utah State from 1963 to 1966. He spent the 1967 season coaching in the Canadian Football League, Smith said.
Knap’s Boise State stars included quarterback Jim McMillan, the only Bronco with a retired number, and record-setting wide receivers Don Hutt and Mike Holton.
“Tony had a great mind for offensive football,” Smith told the Idaho Statesman on Monday. “He opened up the game. He split the guys out all over the field. They threw the ball and made it interesting. It was a change from the old head-knocking days.”
Knap, who originally was from Milwaukee, began his career as an Idaho high school coach. He coached in California before taking an assistant job at Utah State.
After Boise State, he posted a 47-20-2 record from 1976 to 1981 at UNLV, where he also is remembered as one of the school’s greatest coaches. His career college record: 143-53-4.
Knap lived in Pullman with his wife, Mickey. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in April. He still had fond memories of his coaching career despite his disease.
Former Boise State player Ivan Rounds of Potlatch visited Knap at the retirement home every three or four weeks. He was a redshirt on Knap’s last Boise State team.
Knap frequently asked Rounds how Smith was doing. He also enjoyed talking about Potlatch, where Knap landed one of his first coaching jobs.
Rounds needed to remind Knap that he was from Potlatch every time he visited.
“He would light right up,” Rounds said. “He would remember the house he lived in, his neighbors. He would describe things that are still there.”
As a player, Rounds remembers Knap walking through the locker room and asking players about their family members by name.
“He was such a gentleman,” Rounds said. “… He took the time to ask about everybody, and I think he was genuinely interested.”
BSU COACHES BY VICTORIES
Tony Knap 71
Chris Petersen 64
Jim Criner 59
Dan Hawkins 53
Skip Hall 42
Dirk Koetter 26
Pokey Allen 24
Lyle Setencich 24
Houston Nutt 5
* During the Broncos’ four-year era (not including Tom Mason, who had one win as interim head coach in 1996).
By Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman